Being Latino Means More Than Seeing Our Demographic as a Business Opportunity

In Evangelizing About Hispanic Market, Do We Overlook Complex Issues?

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Tommy Thompson
Tommy Thompson
What does it mean to be Latino in America? It's a complex question and many of us have a pretty comprehensive answer. Often, the answer hinges on our varied experiences -- personal and professional. That answer may also change if we base it on what it means to us as a collective people vs. what it means if we're talking about the consumers in this segment that we as marketers target.

A few days ago, I was able to take a sneak peek of CNN's new series Latino in America. The two-part, four-hour series will air Oct. 21-22. It features the stories of several Hispanic individuals and families in the U.S., including the struggles and/or successes they face day to day. Don't worry, I won't ruin the plot for you, but I'd like to focus on some of the headlines and thoughts from the discussion that followed the screening.

While I thought the documentary was a fair and accurate representation of many of the realities of what it means to be Latino in America, others in the audience felt that it was slanted to portray a negative and stereotypical view of Hispanics.

It comes as no surprise that part of our job as marketers is to romanticize the product we sell to our audience. I wonder if sometimes the process of selling the idea of marketing to Hispanics, we get more caught up in evangelizing about the younger age, larger families and almost $1 trillion spending power this consumer has and we overlook the fact that this lucrative consumer segment is more than just a consumer segment. It is made of people. With faces. And names (in the show, all families mentioned had the last name GarcĂ­a, the eighth most popular in our country). And for many of these people, the American dream can at times be a nightmare. After all, being younger, having larger families and trying to succeed can have its challenges. Challenges like above-average drop-out rates, teen pregnancy and anti-immigrant sentiments. These are borderline epidemics and presently a high hurdle for future success.

The problem is that, as marketers, we rarely put enough focus and effort around these items. I wonder if not talking about those realities stems from a fear of maybe turning off the brand managers who are on the fence about marketing toward the Hispanic consumer in the first place. Or maybe it's because the reality of many of those consumers is so far removed from the lives that you and I are so privileged to live. After all, these are realities that often don't come out in a focus group or show up in a chart showing how we over-index in so many purchases.

Now, don't misunderstand me -- there are dozens of brands and groups out there doing great things for the Hispanic community, more than I can name here. But when you consider the growth rate of the Hispanic consumer and the depth of some of the issues they face, these efforts, while positive, are not enough.

And this is critical. No one disagrees that, given the Hispanic growth rate, we will soon comprise a majority of the U.S. population. The question becomes what society this consumer set is going to resemble. Will we mimic the countries some of us came from, where a select few control the lives of many and the majority is a mass of non-graduated, impoverished people? Or will we change the dynamic? I believe if the segment continues down the path portrayed by the CNN story, a U.S. version of Latin America is in our future -- but it doesn't have to be.

You and I have the unique ability and resources to ensure that our younger generation -- the generation causing the shift in population and those responsible for our future -- changes the course for the better. As communicators, we play a vital role in shaping the thoughts and perception consumers have towards the brands we manage. As people, we have an obligation to our community and play a vital role in the development of our future.

I challenge you all to get involved professionally and personally.

Professionally, work with the brands you represent to identify and attack social issues that affect Hispanics in the U.S. There are already many brands attacking the education issues, but with Hispanic dropout rates being the highest in the country more is never enough. After all, this is where the foundation is laid. Education is only the tip of the iceberg -- there are more causes out there that your brand can interact with. This is not just being a good corporate citizen; these efforts will benefit the brand's position with this segment.

Personally, find a cause in your community, any cause, or maybe even one child in need and get involved. If every one of us is able to positively influence at least one person -- there is no doubt we will all be better off in the long run.

Finally, for those of you focused on the bottom line, this also ensures that we will have a more affluent, well-educated consumer to market to down the road. And don't we all love that? Most importantly though, we will have a country whose Hispanic population is not only the majority, but comprised of highly educated, successful people.

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